"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." Isaiah 11:1
A stump with an unexpected shoot - an inexplicable green leaf - frames and centers the season of Advent. Before we see the leaf, the stump names our hopelessness, our knowing better than to look for life in places that have been purged of life. There are many places in which it is easy to believe that growth is not possible. We encounter people and places and situations (incarceration, climate change, Syria, the neighbor who won't shovel the walk, ourselves). It can even become easy to go to church forgetting that the promise is always deeper, always wider. Not just a solemn act of obligation performed, but an expectation of encounter that leaves a mark. But then we see the unexpected green leaf.
One form of the Prayers of the People in the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer includes the following bidding: "I ask your prayers for all who seek God, or a deeper knowledge of him." As a child, I found this bidding perplexing, because I assumed that we all would pray for deeper knowledge. At what point do we grow content? Or resigned? Or defeated? At what point do we forget the child's earnest petition, "More, please." Advent allows us to speak the world's dead and daunting spots honestly, still we dare not forget the green leaf, which is the emergence of Christ, the Good News that God is for us and with us; that God's heart is for our flourishing. The waters that flow from the crystal stream are moving.
One way we are remembering the green leaf of Advent at St. Francis House this year is by the commitment to engage one another and others who are important to us in weekly conversation around the following questions. We hope the practice will help us lean into the expectation of God's movement and growth - in the world around us, our faith community, and ourselves. We share the practice questions here for those who would like to learn this leaning with us, and because God has made us each and all for joy.